Passports 2021 CX Profile

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Passport Services

Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State

Note: Unlike other profiles, which were compiled with agency participation, staff from the Bureau of Consular Affairs was unable to participate in research interviews or review the Passports profile this year. Data and insights are based on publicly available information on the agency’s website and in news reports about passport services.

Passports are vital documents that enable people to travel around the world, and the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department issues millions of them every year. A total of 143.1 million valid U.S. passports were in circulation in fiscal year 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic significantly impacted the bureau’s ability to provide passport services in 2020 and 2021. Because of the printing equipment and other technology used to process and issue passports, bureau staff were unable to work from home, and at the beginning of the pandemic passport services were limited to only those who had to travel for emergencies. The bureau brought staff back into offices and resumed regular passport processing beginning in summer 2020. But by spring 2021, increased interest in travel, combined with lingering pandemic workplace restrictions at the bureau, resulted in a significant backlog of passport applications. As of July 2021, the bureau was estimating an average processing time of 18 weeks for regular passports, and 12 weeks for expedited service, up from 6 to 8 weeks in fiscal year 2019.

Service Overview

Primary customers

Citizens applying for or holding U.S. passports. 

Key services provided to customers

  • Information on and assistance with applying for, renewing and canceling passports.
  • Processing of passport applications, renewals and cancellations, and issuance of passports.
    • 11.7 million passports issued in fiscal year 2020. (20.7 million in fiscal year 2019).
  • Expedited passports for emergency travel.   

Service Snapshot

  • 1.5 million passport applications received in fiscal year 2020.
  • 143.1 million valid U.S. passports in circulation in fiscal year 2020.


Data Highlights

average processing time in weeks for passports as of July 2021. (up from estimates of 6-8 weeks in fiscal year 2019)

passports issued in fiscal year 2020. (20.7 million in fiscal year 2019)


Customer Experience Insights

People are waiting longer to receive their passports. 

As of July 2021, the State Department was taking up to 18 weeks to process and mail routine passport applications, and up to 12 weeks to process and mail expedited applications as the agency worked to address a backlog of as many as two million applications.1

At the beginning of the pandemic, the agency limited passport services to those who needed to travel for an emergency, as most of the staff responsible for processing passports was sent home for safety. Staff members are unable to telework because passport processing requires use of IT systems that can only be accessed within the State Department’s facilities. In the fall of 2020, the agency prioritized bringing Passports staff back to the office safely, and passport processing times returned to pre-pandemic lengths by December 2020.2

However, in early 2021, as vaccinations increased and more people began planning international travel, applications surged, and the agency once again struggled to keep pace.3 The agency continues to bring more staff back into the office and is working to hire additional staff and contractors to increase passport processing capacity, but it will take time for these new staff to be trained. In the meantime, the State Department is cautioning travelers that they should plan to apply for or renew their passport at least 6 months ahead of any planned travel, as the backlog is expected to continue for some time.4

Customers cannot apply for or renew a passport online.

Customers cannot apply for or renew a passport online due to constraints with the department’s information technology systems. The bureau’s plans to enable customers to apply for or renew passports online have been delayed, with little progress made in recent years, according to the agency’s Office of the Inspector General.5

Customers value the knowledge and professionalism of passport services staff.

Staff at both the contact centers and local passport offices receive extensive training to resolve customer issues, and the organization celebrates examples of excellent service through awards and newsletters. The bureau also ensures staff members across the organization have consistent information when interacting with customers, so that people get the same guidance no matter how they contact the bureau.

Passport services application process survey results6 (fiscal year 2019, all scores out of 100 points)  

  • How professional was the staff where you applied for your passport? 90
  • How knowledgeable was the staff where you applied for your passport? 91
  • How do these numbers compare? 68.1 on scale of 0 to 100: the aggregated score across federal services measured in the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2019.

Delivering Passport Services Equitably

Although all American citizens are eligible for a U.S. passport, a recent poll conducted by the Economist and YouGov showed that only 37% of American adults have one. The data from the same poll also revealed that there are socio-economic differences between those who own and those who do not own a passport, and hence are able to travel internationally or not. People from households with an income of $100,000 or higher are three times more likely to have passports than those with incomes of $50,000 or less. Education is also a predictor of whether a person has a passport – the majority of those who did not receive education beyond high-school do not have passports.

The reasons why people might not have passports vary, but one important factor is that for many eligible customers, U.S. passport services are not accessible. One of the possible barriers is the cost—the fee for a first-time adult passport book is $145 ($115 for children under 16). When considering a trip for a family of four, a total of $520 in addition to other travel expenses is prohibitive to many Americans. Another difficulty is that passport applications cannot be done online—new applications require an in-person visit and renewals can be done by mail if certain conditions are met. Additionally, application processing times are longer than some may expect—currently up to 16 weeks. This can be especially burdensome for naturalized American citizens—once a person becomes a citizen, their permanent residency card is invalid, and they do not have a U.S. birth certificate, so in absence of other documents, people could find themselves without means of proving their identity and the ability to travel abroad for up to four months.

The bureau has plans to address some of these issues, although the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation.

Leading Customer Experience Practices

The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. 

Organizational Commitment

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.   

No

However, customer experience is included as a focus area in the bureau’s goals around innovation and modernization.  

2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.

No

The bureau has a key performance measure based on the timeliness of passport processing but does not include customer feedback.    

3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.

Partially

The deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services oversees all aspects of passport delivery. Improving customer experience is a part of that role.    

Ease of Customer Interactions

Ease of Customer Interactions

Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.

For the most common services provided, customers can:

1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.  

Partially

Customers can access passport applications online but cannot submit the complete application electronically. As of July 2021, appointments at the State Department’s passport centers can only be scheduled by phone. Online scams led the bureau to disable its online appointment system.

2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. 

Yes

Customers typically can get online updates on the status of their passport applications. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau has been limited in its ability to provide estimates of when people will receive their passports. 

3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.

Yes

The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ social media accounts frequently respond to customer comments and questions on Twitter, with either specific responses or directions on where to find relevant information.

4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.

Partially

Information about passport services is available on the bureau’s website in Spanish, although online services and printable forms are available only in English.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.

No

While the bureau collects customer experience data across service delivery channels, it does not currently share this data with the public. 

2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.

Yes

The bureau holds focus groups and listening sessions to gather feedback in customers’ own words.

3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.

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Footnotes and Methodology

Footnotes

  1. Federal News Network, “State Dept. Promises ‘Surge’ Staffing to Confront Unprecedented Passport Backlog and Wait Times,” July 14, 2021. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3AU3auu.
  2. Federal News Network, “State Dept. IT modernization delays leave passport services staff unable to telework,” September 7, 2021. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3jc34bP.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, Rachel Arndt, Bureau of Consular Affairs on the State Department’s Passport Services. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/briefing-with-deputy-assistant-secretary-for-passport-services-rachel-arndt-bureau-of-consular-affairs-on-the-state-departments-passport-services/.
  5. Department of State Inspector General, “Inspection of the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Passport Services Directorate,” September 2021. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3vljdAC.
  6. Data is from a survey that was emailed to customers after they applied for or renewed a passport. Response rate: 6.1%; Survey scale: 1-10 points, unless noted otherwise. The responses for each question are used to calculate a score between 0-100. 

Customer experience indicators methodology

The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

  1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
    • Criteria: a) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities b) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience 
  2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
    • Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. 
  3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services).

Ease of Customer Interactions

Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.

For the most common services provided, customers can:

  1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. 
  2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
    • Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines.
  3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
    • Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis.
  4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
    • Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

  1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
    • Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction)
  2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
    • Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data.
  3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
    • Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback.

This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.